Arrest

Criminal Trial Guide in Pennsylvania

This guide serves as a general overview of the criminal trial process from arrest through appeal in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Each case, each Pennsylvania County, and each client may have specific rules and needs which can deviate from this general guide. This guide is not a substitute for legal advice. Please consult an attorney regarding specific facts and issues which may affect your case.

1. Arrest and Preliminary Arraignment

Most criminal cases in Pennsylvania begin with the arrest of the Defendant. Most felonies require an immediate arrest and processing. While most misdemeanors, the charges can be issued by summons in the mail to the Client. Following the arrest and processing, the Defendant is brought (or by video) before a district judge to have bail and bail conditions set. An appearance before the district magistrate generally occurs within hours of arrest and processing. A Defendant has the right to have an attorney present before the district magistrate, and the right to argue for bail on behalf of the Defendant.

2. Court of Common Pleas Bail Hearing

All Defendants have the right to have all bail decisions made by the district magistrate reviewed by the Court of Common Pleas (the “higher” court). The exact process for a Common Pleas bail review can vary greatly from County to County.

3. Preliminary Hearing

At the preliminary arraignment, the district magistrate will set a date for the preliminary hearing. This date must be set within 10 days of the arrest, but is often continued due to the availability of witnesses , attorneys, and evidence. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is for the Commonwealth to establish a Prima Facie case against the Defendant. The Defendant does not put on a defense, but has the right to review and cross examine the witnesses and evidence against them. Credibility is not at issue at a preliminary hearing, neither is guilt or innocence. In its simplest form, a preliminary hearing is used to determine whethere there is “some evidence” against the Defendent so that the case can proceed to trial. The preliminary hearing serves as a gatekeeping function to dismiss charges and cases where there is not sufficient evidence against a Defendant to proceed to trial

4. Formal Arraignment

The formal arraignment generally occurs 1-3 months following the preliminary hearing. Again, very dependent on county rules and county backlog. In most counties, the formal arraignment can be waived if an attorney is retained. The Defendant need not appear if they have retained counsel. The purpose of the formal arraignment is to advise the Defendant of the trial date, trial rights, the penalties for each crime charged, and other local county practices. Usually, when a Defendant has hired an attorney, the court assumes that the Defendant has been advised of their rights and options.

5. Discovery Process

Following the formal arraignment, the Defendant is entitled to Discovery. Essentially, the Defendant is entitled to all police reports, expert reports, photographs, witnesses, criminal histories, and all evidence against them. The attorney for the defendant will receive this Discovery.

6. PreTrial Motions

Within 30 days of the Formal Arraignment, the Defendant must file all pretrial motions in their case. This may include Suppression motions, Discovery motions, Limiting motions, Dismissal motions, etc. An experienced attorney, after reviewing the discovery, will be necessary to file appropriate motions necessary to defend your case. You will lose the right to litigate these motions if they are not filed. A hearing on these motions will be required prior to trial. The scheduling of that hearing will vary from county to county. Some counties will give their own pretrial date. Other counties will litigate the motions on the day of trial.

7. PreTrial Diversionary Programs

Following the formal arraignment is GENERALLY the time to file for a diversionary program if applicable. This may include ARD, Drug Court, Veterans Court, Youthful Offender court, etc. The types of programs available, eligibility for these progtrams, applications, and the timing of the applications will vary greatly from county to county

8. TRIAL (jury or Waiver)

Once discovery has been completed, and all pretrial motions litigated, the court will schedule a trial date. Defendants may or may not receive a plea offer from the District Attorney prior to trial. The defendant will also accept entry into a diversionary program prior to trial. Trials generally occur anywhere from two to five months following the formal arraignment, but this timing is highly suspect due to the seriousness of a case and the availability of witnesses, experts, and officers. The Defendant has the option of a Judge ONLY trial (waiver trial) or a jury trial. In a jury trial, the defense and the District attorney will select the final panel from members of the community chosen at random. In a waiver trial, the judge alone hears the case, and make the determination of guilty or not guilty. Both a judge or jury must decide guilt BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.

9. Sentencing

Sentencing occurs following a conviction at trial, or following a guilty plea or plea offer. Sentencing can be immediate or deferred for a period of time, depending on the circumstances. Some counties require a presentence report. Other counties will allow the Defendant’s counsel to prepare their own mitigation. The sentence given is a function of sentencing guidelines, which is a matrix of prior offenses and severity of the present conviction. Some crimes require mandatory sentencing. Sentencing is an extremely complicated process requiring an experienced counsel. In addition to the guidelines, there are a number of setencing alternatives that may be availabile, including: House Arrest, Work Release, SIP, RRRI, etc.

10. Post Trial / Sentence Motions

The Defendant has the right to file Post Sentence or Post Trial motions within 10 days of their sentencing. These motions may include Motions for Reconsideration of Sentence, Motions to overturn the conviction, or Motions for a sentencing program. There are numerous options available in Post Sentence motions

11. Direct Appeal

A direct appeal to the Superior Court must be filed within 30 days of Sentencing, or within 30 days following a ruling on the Post Sentence motions. All appeals by the Superior Court are based on a review of the trial court record to determine whether errors were made. Direct Appeals do not permit new evidence or witnesses to by presented, but a review of what has already transpired.

12. Violations of Probation or Parole

Once a sentenced Defendant is released on parole or probation. Their behavior during the additional supervision make cause a violation of their probation or parole. The VOP hearing is a mini trial where the Defendant challenges or explains their conduct, and argues for an appropriate sanction, if any.

If you have any questions, or need an attorney. Please contact me.
Niels C Eriksen Jr, Esquire

Bucks County Criminal Defense Attorney

Advertisements

An Arrest does Not mean Guilt!

A 27-year-old Philadelphia man was accused of drug trafficking after authorities allegedly found large quantities of heroin and cocaine on his person. He was arrested after allegedly attempting to flee from police who were supposedly serving another unrelated warrant in his area. Police allegedly confiscated three cell phones, large quantities of drugs and a little over US $2000 from Mr. Quinn before taking him to jail on a $50,000 bail. He was arrested on the 100 block of Hampden Road at around 9:30 p.m. on July 13.

Mr. Quinn was charged as being a major drug dealer in the area. The amount for bail seemed excessively high to some legal experts; however, the police superintendent upheld the decision of the court and the actions of his officers who were not in the area to serve any type of procedure on the Philadelphia man initially.

Although the man drew attention to himself by fleeing police, the actions of the police may not have been consistent with Philadelphia law. However, in order to present this properly in court, the accused man may need to hire a legal professional who is experienced with the drug trafficking and law enforcement statues in the area.

Drug trafficking laws are becoming ever more draconian in certain Philadelphia territories, and just because someone has been accused of a crime, does not mean that he or she has committed it. It may be beneficial to hire a defense when the stakes are this high. The system can sometimes seem overwhelming. A criminal defense attorney may be able to make the legal systems easier to comprehend for their clients and may be able to construct an effective defense.

Source: Delaware County Daily Times, “Man facing drug charges”, Linda Reilly, July 16, 2013

The Problem of Mandatory Sentencing

Many states, including Pennsylvania, have begun to reform their sentencing laws in regards to mandatory sentencing. Mandatory sentencing, normally subjected to those convicted of drug charges, is a minimum sentence that is to be given to someone convicted of a specific crime. Since it’s introduction in the 1970s, the prison population in the U.S. has quadrupled. The U.S. currently incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other country, including Iran and China.

Many politicians believe that mandatory sentencing is causing more problems than it is solving. In addition to states changing their laws, this concern has pushed the federal government to consider legislation that would do the same. Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder directed prosecutors working on federal cases to not introduce evidence against people with a limited criminal history that could cause such sentences to be given.

Those in favor of reform want to completely do away with these sentences of non-violent crimes. They also want sentencing to be back in the hands of judges for minor drug crimes. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is co-sponsoring federal legislation to reform the practice for federal crimes because he thinks mandatory sentencing is costly and unfair.

These laws have filled prisons with non-violent criminals and haven’t stopped the sale or use of illegal drugs. This movement to end these mandatory minimum sentences may help many people avoid prison sentences that are a harsher punishment than the crime they were convicted of deserves. While Pennsylvania has taken steps to address the issue, those with drug charges still face the possibility of long prison sentences. An attorney may be able to assist those charged with drug crimes better understand what options they have to protect their future. An attorney could also negotiate for a plea deal with the prosecution that results in their client enrolling in a substance abuse program.

Source:¬†The Week, “Rethinking mandatory sentencing“, Dan Stewart, September 14, 2013

Philadelphia police officers sued for planting drugs at apartment

Dozens of drug cases¬†are being dropped by the Philadelphia district attorney’s office after several officers had been accused of making false arrests, using excessive force and planting drugs while conducting drug crime investigations in the area.

When the Philadelphia police officers had their credibility questioned last year, it was also reported that dozens of other cases involving the officers would likely need to be reexamined in order to determine whether similar wrongdoings and violations were made in those cases. And a few weeks ago, three individuals who have claimed that they are victims of these wrongdoings reported that they are now filing a lawsuit against several of the officers for illegally raiding their apartment and arresting them.

The lawsuit was filed by three individuals who were inside an apartment unit when police raided the unit on July 31, 2012. Several officers that are named in the lawsuit are the same officers who were involved in the dozens of cases that had to be dropped late last year due to credibility concerns. Other officers have also been named in the lawsuit for allegedly conducting the illegal arrests and planting evidence at the apartment.

According to the lawsuit, police had executed a search warrant at the wrong apartment unit. Police also allegedly harassed the occupants and then arrested the individuals after planting drugs in their apartment. After arresting the occupants, it was later discovered that police were supposed to execute the search warrant at a different unit at the same apartment complex.

Although many drug arrests are conducted lawfully, folks should always consider consulting an attorney after being accused of committing drug crimes in order to make sure they protect their rights as best as possible. Clearly, mistakes may be made when executing search warrants and conducting criminal investigations, but even when arrests are conducted lawfully, an aggressive defense attorney may still help to mitigate the consequences of a drug arrest in Pennsylvania.

Source: Philly.com, “Lawsuit accuses cops of false arrests,” Morgan Zalot, Feb. 1, 2013